FERNANDO Torres looked like the devastating player of old as he burst through Manchester United’s defence and waltzed around David de Gea on Sunday.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, it was the baffling Torres of now who took aim at the empty net from all of seven yards and diverted the ball into a gleeful crowd.
It was as bad a miss as I have seen at the very highest level and unbelievable from a player of the World Cup-winning striker’s stature.
The scarcely credible incident captured how bankrupt of confidence Torres currently is and has worrying implications for the club’s silverware ambitions.
Perversely it came on an otherwise encouraging afternoon for the former Liverpool player, who had earlier scored his first goal of the season.
Torres was also decent in midweek against Champions League opponents Bayer Leverkusen, and at Stoke a few weeks ago.
But equally he has been poor in other fixtures this term, and what really confuses me is how his form is fluctuating so greatly – even within one match.
It is as if each good thing he does sparks an improvement in his play for 10 minutes – but every setback puts him in the doldrums for 20.
No longer is he being aggressive, attacking the near post, sliding in and going in where it hurts – as United’s Javier Hernandez is doing week-in, week-out to great effect. Instead he is waiting for pull-backs and attempting overhead kicks.
Clearly, he is struggling to shake off the demons that have plagued him since his £50m transfer from Anfield in January.
But Roman Abramovich forked out for him to take them to the next level and it’s vital to Chelsea that he does emerge from his malaise soon.
Had he scored that now-infamous chance they would have been in with a real shout of seeing the comeback all the way through to 3-3. Instead the Blues lost further ground to title rivals United, who are buzzing.
New players, like the excellent Juan Mata, are still bedding in and as that understanding develops it will help the team get the best out of Torres.
He would also benefit from sticking with the same formation that Andre Villas-Boas deployed at Old Trafford, with two wide men and freedom to chase all the way across the front line.
More than anything, manager Andre Villas-Boas will recognise that Torres needs an unbroken sequence of starts. Because if Chelsea are going to rein in Manchester’s runaway top two, the forlorn Spaniard will need a run of games to make his stuttering improvements consistent.
FIVE MORE | OPEN GOAL MISSES
5. Ryan Giggs
(Man Utd v Arsenal, Feb 2003)
If crashing out of the FA Cup to United’s then-biggest rivals Arsenal was not bad enough, Giggs also suffered personal humiliation by spooning over with his weaker right foot with the goal begging.
(WBA v Middlesbrough, Nov 2004)
The Nigerian is nothing if not unpredictable, and few could have foreseen he would scoop Geoff Horsfield’s low cross over the crossbar from about a yard out.
3. Rocky Baptiste (Harrow Borough v Waltham Abbey, Nov 2009)
The non-league hero is guilty of arguably the worst of the lot – skewing wide from virtually on the line – but well, it’s non-league. What do you expect?
2. Diego Forlan
(Man Utd v Juventus, Aug 2003)
Few who witnessed Forlan’s star turns for Uruguay at last year’s World Cup would recognise the player who pounced on a goalkeeping howler and advanced on the net – only to slice wide.
1. Ronny Rosenthal
(Liverpool v Aston Villa, Sep 1992)
The Israeli rounds the keeper and even takes a touch before, dead in front of goal, improbably hitting the bar. The miss against which all others are judged.